Eugene had made his first communion on Holy Thursday at the College of Nobles in Turin. It was always an important moment for him to recall the joy of this important event.
Antoine Ricard, who had been a diocesan seminarian in Marseille, showed this:
One Holy Thursday – as I personally recall – we were in the Cathedral of Marseille. The bishop (Eugene de Mazenod) was officiating with the gentle dignity and recollection that made him renowned among all the bishops, his contemporaries. Unexpectedly we saw him cry and, while trying, he could not conceal it. The seminarians who surrounded the bishop’s throne, struck by the emotion of the Bishop, were moved as they looked at him. He noticed this, and turning to one of them, the author of these lines, whose short-sightedness made his staring more obvious:
“Young man,” he said with that simplicity that made him win hearts, “do not be startled like that – today is the anniversary of my first communion.”
Mgr Antoine RICARD, “Monseigneur de Mazenod, évêque de Marseille, fondateur de la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée,” p. 12.
As we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, perhaps we could make this the opportunity to recall our own first communion with joy and thanksgiving.
As the novices prepare for their first retreat, it is in the light of the Rule that their vocation has to be presented. The house superior was to be the retreat preacher.
What I want is that in retreat talks, especially in the novitiate, there should be frequent and textual citation of the words of our Rules, both to form the attitude of respect that each of us owes them and for there to be a clear understanding that that is the code that lays down our duties.
It is the first general retreat in which our new men have participated, it is important that it should make a big impression on them: make it your concern to achieve this happy result.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 21 October 1834, EO VIII n 494
Eugene repeats this important prescription to the novice master too:
…I have written to Father Courtès that I want the one who gives the talks to base himself largely on the text of our Rules which he is to cite as the Code of the Congregation. This method builds up respect for these Rules and is a better way of inculcating the precepts contained in them.
Letter to Casimir Aubert, 21 October 1834, EO VIII n. 495
The Constitutions and Rules remain for all of us today the light which guides our Mazenodian vocation in whichever state of life we are called to live it.
Being the one ultimately responsible for the spirit and mission of the Oblates and for the welfare of each one, Eugene, as Superior General, had vetted two of the young men who wanted to enter the novitiate and become Oblates. He wrote to the novice master, Casimir Aubert, to give his impressions and warnings.
… I happened to be at Calvaire when the two Italians arrived there. After a long conversation with them, I came to the conclusion that the one lacked the capacity while the other was lacking in virtue. Father Albini, in whose hands I left them, is sending them on to you for you to make a definitive judgment. I don’t want you to have the wool pulled over your eyes, which is why I am writing again this evening. In the first place I see no possibility of admitting the one who is sub-standard in intelligence. He did very badly in school, he was sent away from the Jesuit college for the precise reason that he did not succeed in his studies. It is some teacher in the town who pushed him through his studies in double quick time. What is more he expresses himself with great difficulty. I don’t think he is cut out for us.
The other one has a bad appearance, a crooked smile, a fastidiousness about his grooming that makes one suppose he thinks he is an attractive young man. I don’t think he has the least idea about the religious virtues and it could well be has come for some ulterior motive…
In short, it seems to me it would take a miracle for him to acquire the religious virtues and it would worry me a lot to introduce to the novitiate a young man infected with vice, especially when he shows not the least sign of religious fervour, in case it should prove harmful to men who have a real need of good example.
After all these warnings, Eugene advised:
Even so, I am not making a definite pronouncement for his exclusion. If you think you have the courage to set about his conversion, trusting in a miracle, you are free to try, but be on your guard, don’t deceive yourself, and above all exclude any idea of admitting him [ed to become a novice] before he has had an intensive trial for one month.
Letter to Casimir Aubert, 2-3 October 1834, EO VIII n. 487
Nothing upsets me more than having to send anyone away after the ceremonies of entry into the novitiate. Why not give ourselves enough time to form a reasonable judgment on them? In this case it is clear that the young man in question cannot be admitted.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, 30 November 1834, EO VIII n 496
Thus Fr Aubert did not have to trust in miracles!
The novitiate year, at that time the first step in the process of becoming an Oblate, had been transferred to the house of Aix. The newly-appointed novice master was the 24 year-old Casimir Aubert. In this regard, Eugene wrote to the superior of the house, Father Courtès, to give him advice:
I urge you to keep an eye on the novice-master’s health; being very young and consulting his zeal more than his strength, he could easily ruin his constitution, which is not strong.
He also reminded the superior to never lose sight of the role of the novice master:
The master of novices must give himself fully to his task. Consequently, he must never be diverted from his usual occupations concerning the novices whom he must, so to speak, gather under his wings as the hen gathers her young under her wings.
Because of the importance of the novitiate process, Eugene has to be a part of the process:
No one will ever be admitted to the novitiate without prior notice to me. At least once a month I will receive a report on everything. In case of doubt on anything, I will be consulted.
Letter to Hippolyte Courtès, October 2 and 3, 1834, EO VIII n 486
Almost two centuries later the process continues, not only for those who want to be religious missionaries, but for many laity who wish to follow the charism and mission of St Eugene as Associate members of the Mazenodian family. A suitable time of discernment, formation and preparation is essential for all before a commitment is made.
One of the earliest ends of the Missionaries in 1818 had been to work for the reform of priests, especially after the ravages of the Revolution. Sixteen years later we find that this is still the case and that our communities were open to receiving priests.
It will be important for you to come to an understanding with Father Vincens on how to conduct retreats for the ecclesiastics and priests who will be coming for this purpose to your house.
The model lifestyle of the Oblate community ,and the witness they gave, was seen by some of the local priests as a silent condemnation of their own bad lifestyles.
It grieves me, but comes as no surprise, to learn that some of the neighbouring priests have changed their attitude towards you. My advice is to seem not to have noticed and to keep up the courtesies, at the same time changing nothing of what is upsetting them, in other words be ever more regular, ever more aloof from dissipation, from the style of life they have adopted; in the long run, you will win the support even of those who see in your way of life a silent condemnation of their own.
Recalling that Fr Guigues was only 29, and the youthfulness of his two companions, Eugene advised:
Remember that you have to compensate for your youthfulness, and I will venture to say your childlike appearance, with a special exterior gravity, which is not inconsistent with courtesy.
Letter to Bruno Guigues, 6 October 1834, EO VIII n 488
The success of the Oblate mission depended in a large measure to the goodwill of the local bishop. Eugene reminds Fr. Guigues and his community of the importance of this at ND de l’Osier.
You cannot be too grateful to the Bishop of Grenoble for his immeasurable goodwill towards you. Always maintain trusting relations with him such as a good man like that is capable of appreciating, and take pains to give him proof that there are no priests in his diocese more devoted to him than ourselves. It is not enough that you are such, see to it somehow that he knows it. You owe him that consolation.
Letter to Bruno Guigues, 10 October 1834, EO VIII n 490
Writing to Fr Aubert, Eugene boasts how successful the Osier community had been in cultivating a good relationship with the Bishop of Grenoble.
Guigue[s] has written me the most consoling things about how his community is getting on with the Bishop of Grenoble, who praised him and his confreres to the skies in the presence of all the clergy gathered for the retreat.
He even gave the latter a free hand to enter the noviate if they wanted to. It is really marvellous!
Letter to Casimir Aubert, 11 October 1834, EO VIII n 491
Within months of the beginning of the Oblates ministry at the sanctuary, they were able to see results with an increase in the number of pilgrims and a deepening of their devotion.
Like you I have offered praise to the Lord for the graces bestowed on the house of l’Osier. It is with much satisfaction that I hear from you once again that devotion at the sanctuary is on the increase and growing in depth.
Then Eugene underlines the reason for this: the quality of the religious life and witness of the missionaries. It is the result of their regularity and fidelity to their Rule of Life which ensures faithfulness to their vocation and to the Savior who called them.
It is God’s way of rewarding your zeal and devotion. Interior regularity and your fidelity to the Rule have brought you this grace that you are enjoying. Keep on without wearying…
Letter to Bruno Guigues, 9 October 1834, EO VIII n 489
The following day, Eugene wrote again to express his joy and satisfaction:
I am lost in admiration at all you tell me. Give thanks for it to the good God and the Holy Virgin, and continue to make yourself worthy of this powerful protection, by an exemplary life and diffusing abroad the good odour of Jesus Christ and giving signal proof that there are yet men who, amidst a general demoralization that infects even the clergy, have known how to understand the ways of this divine master and to follow his counsels faithfully.
Letter to Bruno Guigues, 10 October 1834, EO VIII n 490
Every day Eleanor Rabnett , a member of the Mazenodian family in Ottawa, Canada, responds to the reflection of “St Eugene Speaks” by sharing her reactions (see http://www.eugenedemazenod.net).
Yesterday I presented Bishop Bruno Guigues, who was basically the founder and builder of the Church in Ottawa of which, some 180 years later, Eleanor forms a part of. Here is her response:
Once again I begin by going to the Historical Dictionary to read about Bishop Bruno Guigues OMI before attending to this morning post for reflection. I readily recognize the original spirit of Eugene de Mazenod within Bishop Guigues and how he made it a part of himself. No mimicking St. Eugene but rather living and sharing that Mazenodian Spirit. Called to share this beautiful charism with all those he met.
I am struck that he was not just a copycat image of Eugene de Mazenod but how in the way of all holy men and women he absorbed the gift of Eugene’s charism and spirituality, making it his own and living it as he had been created to. I recognize Eugene’s light being shed upon Bishop Guigues and how he in his own way shed his light on the Oblates and all he met and cared for. He ensured that the charism remained relevant and alive here in Canada by his very life.
I am a little amazed, awed at the sentiments that rise from within me as I consider the immense gifts that we have received and how we give that back. This congregation, indeed this Mazenodian Family which began a continent away and was so instrumental in building our country (like the threads of a tapestry of life all interwoven to make a vast and full picture of life) and then spread back out into the world at large.
I look again and see how the lives of men such as Bruno Guigues OMI connect with and play a part in each of the lives of those who make up the Mazenodian Family; in our lives within the Church and within our local communities – all of which intersect with each other becoming a part of a greater whole. In the midst of all the trials and joys that will make up this day, I feel blessed with joy and gratitude. Lord, let all that I am and do today be a lived ‘giving thanks’.
Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate
We have been reading about Father Guigues in recent letters, so let us pause to find out more about this extraordinary Oblate missionary.
Born in 1805, he was too young to make his oblation after his novitiate, and had to wait until his 18thbirthday to do so. Ordained a priest at the age of 23, he did several ministries in Aix and Notre Dame du Laus until in 1834 when he became the first superior and pastor of Notre-Dame de l’Osier. Through his considerable abilities he was able to restore that place of pilgrimage materially and spiritually.
In 1844 he was sent to Canada as superior of the Oblates who had first arrived there three years before and were badly in need of better organization. It was he who did this and who sent the Missionaries further inland where there was great need. Three years later, he was appointed Bishop of Bytown the town which would later be called Ottawa.
Gaston Carriere describes him and his achievements:
“When he arrived he found an unfinished cathedral, three stone churches and about fifteen wooden chapels. Seven diocesan priests and seven Oblates constituted the clergy of the diocese. He immediately got down to work and, at his death, there were 67 churches, 48 chapels and number of schools. He then had 53 diocesan priests and 37 Oblates.
Education for young people was one of his primary concerns. In September 1848 he opened a college and a major seminary in Bytown. In 1856 he built a new college in stone on the site of what is today the University of Ottawa. Father Joseph Tabaret was appointed superior. The direction of the college was entrusted to the Oblates who retained it until 1965.
Bishop Guigues was perspicacious. He immediately perceived the special bilingual character of his diocese and he facilitated it in ministry and teaching. He was also very active in providing Catholic schools and he fought long and hard to obtain justice for Catholics and for French Canadians. He offered a free course in the college in Ottawa “to complete studies and obtain the necessary qualifications for teaching
Bishop Guigues was a friend of the poor and the abandoned… A kind and amenable person, Bishop Guigues possessed a rare energy and he had the ability to surmount obstacles to achieve his purpose. He was a very simple man and, until the end of his life, he continued to fulfil the tasks of pastor or assistant priest. He was faithful to the confessional in his cathedral and he often preached and visited the sick. Each year he did the round of his diocese and these visits became real retreats during which the bishop was available to all.”